The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) capped off 2022 Women’s Month with “SheLeads: A Forum on How Women Are Leading Sustainable Social Transformation” at the Diamond Hotel in Manila on March 30. The event, also broadcast via Zoom, featured discussions of gender-sensitivity awareness, women’s empowerment, and combating gender-based violence (GBV). This is the second SheLeads Forum ABA ROLI has held under its “Access to Justice and Support for the Rule of Law” (ACCESS) program, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 16 guests attended the event in person, while 107 took part via Zoom.
Ms. Irina Parshikova, Regional Director of ABA ROLI’s Asia and the Pacific Division, kicked off the forum with her opening remarks. Ms. Parshikova underscored women’s pivotal role in efforts to empower people and communities: “In the ACCESS Project we have been privileged to witness women development workers transform barangays into child-friendly communities, encourage survivors of gender-based violence to become human rights advocates, and help women senior citizens find their voice and role in the promotion of human rights.”
Hon. Maria Filomena Singh, Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals of the Philippines, delivered the keynote address, sending a message of solidarity with Filipino Lawyers. In her speech, she discussed topics related to gender, ethics, and education. “My view is that gender sensitivity is our primary tool against … discriminatory conduct and attitudes,” she noted. Justice Singh concluded her remarks by emphasizing the role of women in leadership positions: “For me, women are natural-born leaders because women, from day one, are always purposeful. They always look outside and find something they need to do not for themselves.”
The forum covered three main topics: Increasing Gender-Sensitivity Awareness in Legal Education and Practice; Empowerment of Indigenous Women in Strengthening Community Development; and The Role of Community Leaders in Combatting Gender-Based Violence.
Presenters included Dean Domnina Rances of the Ateneo de Naga College of Law, Atty. Michelle Mendez-Palmares, IBP Cebu City Chapter President, Ms. Amina Salipada of the Luna Legal Resource Center for Women and Children, Atty. Krissi Shaffina Twyla A. Rubin of the Commission on Human Rights, and Dr. Marcelina Carpizo of Philippines Against Child Trafficking.
The results of a poll conducted on Zoom during the forum showed that most respondents believed that Filipino women and girls are most impacted by the following vulnerabilities:
Increase in domestic violence (36%)
Lack of access to healthcare (29%)
Increase in online sexual exploitation (13%).
The survey captured participants’ insights and experiences with respect to gender and inclusion. Based on the results, ABA ROLI has identified some major vulnerabilities for women and the subsections of women who have experienced heightened vulnerability during the pandemic. This information will help to identify potential targets for the ACCESS project’s future technical and financial assistance through its subgrant portfolio. The survey results (82%) showed that GBV and harassment is decreasing in respondents’ communities and workplaces, which shows that the government’s efforts have been effective in reducing perceived violations against women and girls. This differs significantly from the results of a similar survey administered a year ago during the first SheLeads Forum wherein 87% of respondents reported increasing violations of laws protecting women and children during the past year of the COVID pandemic (based on the survey administered during the first SheLeads Forum).
In the ACCESS Project, we have been privileged to witness women development workers transform barangays into child-friendly communities, encourage survivors of gender-based violence to become human rights advocates, help women senior citizens find their voice and role in the promotion of human rights.
For me, women are natural-born leaders because women, from day one, are always purposeful. They always look outside and find something they need to do not for themselves.
As people in charge of legal education, we need to be honest to ourselves and be open to the idea that we might have unconscious gender bias that’s affecting how we relate to our students and to other people. If we really want to build a gender-sensitive and gender-responsive society, we need to start with the people in charge of education.
A gender-sensitive approach is necessary to ensure that the victims do not find themselves victimized again by the legal system. It is vital that we who are involved with the justice and legal processes, the lawyers and the judiciary, in particular, have the requisite knowledge and skills to deal sensitively with gender concerns.
Organizing communities is not an easy job for me. It needs a strong foundation. It needs your 100 percent effort, your best to work hard to help people and to reach those people in the far-flung areas.
We see our task as making the invisible visible, particularly highlighting and surfacing the narratives, the stories of the most vulnerable and marginalized … It is through work with women and organizations on the ground that we are really able to address the issue of gender-based violence and eliminate it, and achieve our goal of gender equality.
It takes a community in combatting gender-based violence and all forms of abuses. It is then imperative that we work together, especially in building and encouraging leadership in the grassroot communities to work hand-in-hand in preventing gender-based violence and to have a protective, safe, secure and sustainable society. If we just work together, we will be able to attain our goal to protect women and children from all forms of violence.
Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Asia & the Pacific.